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New Vision
Uganda: I Sacrificed a Clinic to Save Lives

<p>Staff Writer</p>


October 15, 2012

I closed down my clinic in Bweyogerere and sold all the medicine and other items to save lives in Kawempe. This was after seeing a large number of HIV positive patients visiting a clinic I worked for in the same area," Dr. Samuel Guma the director of Kawempe Home Care says.

Guma was touched by the conditions he saw in Bweyogerere and decided to look for ways of helping the people of Kawempe fight the AIDS scourge. He was, however, faced with a problem of lack of funds. Dr. Guma shared the idea with a couple of friends who agreed to work with him and each made a contribution towards the purchase of mattresses, tables and vehicles, among others.

"We thought of providing holistic care, not only to HIV/AIDS but also to cancer and TB victims," Dr. Guma says. He adds that with 8.9% HIV/AIDS prevalence in Kawempe Division compared to the national average of 6.4, according to ministry of health (2005), coupled with excessive poverty in slums, many of the patients could not afford medicine or transport to pick drugs from Mulago and other health centres. Some could go without food, he says. "There are many terminally ill and bedridden people in the community. I one day visited a place with a friend.

We identified 17 people who were HIV positive; eight of them had advanced AIDS and were almost dying at their homes without hope of getting medication," Dr Guma recounts, adding that the experience gave them a determination to care for the poor and disadvantaged people living with HIV/AIDS. "We found a patient whose roof was blown off. We moved through stagnant water to reach him. He had no food, I felt touched for the first time," Guma said.

Since then, he decided to use his meagre resources to assist the community by setting up a road side mobile clinic next to his main clinic in Kawempe. Dr. Guma could not mix them with other patients because their case was different. "They had no money yet they badly wanted help," he says, adding that later on, the number and needs overwhelmed him.

Kawempe is mostly inhabited by the casual workers who provide cheap labour in the nearby capital city of Kampala. They have little access to the basic necessities because of their limited financial status.

The area has a population of 262,165 people and a population density of 5,081 persons per k/m. In 2007, the clinic later became a fully fledged Kawempe Home Care (KHC).The home started with 11 but the number grew steadily to more than 2000 patients that are receiving services today.

Dr. Guma recalls collecting sh300,000 from his friends to buy some medicines for his patients. He said the clinic later obtained a grant from the US-based charity organization Friends of Reach Out which enabled him to get premises for KHC.

The journey for KHC officially begun when the health ministry accredited the centre as an Anti-retroviral treatment centre to start directly providing medicines to the patients.

Lessons:

Dr. Guma says he has never regretted venturing into working with the victims. He says he has learnt to be a community mobiliser as well as knowing that palliative care is still needed in Uganda.

He says he has worked with several organisations that provide care to HIV victims like Hospice Uganda and Joint Clinical Research Centre. "The clients here and partners have got confidence in us,"he says.

Economic activities:

"Before I came here life was unbearable," Mayi Nalwanga, one of the beneficiaries and a mother of six recounts. She smiles as she continues to make her beads. "I have been able to build my own house at Nabuti in Mukono through selling necklaces made out of beads. I stopped worrying about money ever since I learnt how to make this," Nalwanga says. Nalwanga wishes that the Government could abolish polyethylene bags so that she would be able to sell off even the paper bags they make.

Although she still looks unsteady, there is evidence that hope has been restored in her life. The home did not stop at providing medical care, but went ahead to identify a particular activity each client can be interested in to equip them with skills. "We have three departments in here. Under this department, we train our clients how to support themselves financially," Ruth Musimenta, the entrepreneurship coordinator says.

"We buy these necklaces from them and resale. The money we get is used in sponsoring the school-going children and buying medicine," she adds.

Mushroom farming, pig rearing and paper bag making are also part of the projects initiated to generate income for both the patients and the home. It actually generated 27% of last year's budget to the home. "Every patient chooses what she wants," Musimenta further explains.

Stella Nayiga, a community worker teaches the patients how to take medicine and sensitises them about HIV, cancer and TB.

"There is a challenge of people isolating TB patients. They think whoever suffers from TB is HIV positive, which is not true.

However, Nayiga is dismayed by born-again pastors who stop their flock from taking medicine on the pretext that they have been healed from HIV through prayers. "Pastors tell our patients to abandon their medicines," she says. When pastors look at the medical reports we give to the patients and they see that the viral load is not detected, they think the patient is healed, yet this simply implies that the virus is just dormant.

We need the pastors not to meddle to such levels. Nayiga testifies that one time.



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